Music evolution and neuroscience

Prog Brain Res. 2015:217:17-34. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2014.11.019. Epub 2015 Jan 31.


There have been many attempts to discuss the evolutionary origins of music. We review theories of music origins and take the perspective that music is originally derived from emotional signals. We show that music has adaptive value through emotional contagion, social cohesion, and improved well-being. We trace the roots of music through the emotional signals of other species suggesting that the emotional aspects of music have a long evolutionary history. We show how music and speech are closely interlinked with the musical aspects of speech conveying emotional information. We describe acoustic structures that communicate emotion in music and present evidence that these emotional features are widespread among humans and also function to induce emotions in animals. Similar acoustic structures are present in the emotional signals of nonhuman animals. We conclude with a discussion of music designed specifically to induce emotional states in animals.

Keywords: adaptive value; cross-species parallels; emotional signals; emotions in music; evolution of music; music and speech interactions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Music*
  • Neurosciences*